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Begins: Jun 1, 2018
Date: Sat, Jul 21st, 2018
Start: Interstate Park
End: Interstate Park
Daily Distance: 0
Trip Distance: 1,050.0
Entry Visits: 562
Journal Visits: 10,044
Guestbook Views: 92
Guestbook Entrys: 6
Ice Age Trail Map
*I'd recommend the IAT if you set your expectations properly and maybe do
it in the Fall.*
If you've set your expectations correctly then the IAT is a nice trail.
Don't be expecting big mountains and vistas, knock your socks off scenery
or anything like that. But if you know what to expect and like walking then
the IAT is cool. If you are from Wisconsin then I feel like this adds a big
extra layer of enjoyment. Walking your home state is always amazing,
especially in a state where you wouldn't really expect it to be amazing. If
you like talking to locals and staying with trail angels then this trail is
also for you and will add enjoyment you don't see on other trails.
[*NOTE*: When I say "the first 2/3 of trail" I'm referring to the miles
from the eastern beginning at Sturgeon Bay to Antigo around mile 700 which
are a mix of a ton of road walking sprinkled with some trail here and there
(there is a long section of trail/forest in the Kettle Moraines). When I
say "North Woods" I'm referring to the remaining 400 miles heading west
which are mostly through forest and far less road walking.]
Here are some observations to support this luke warm overall summary:
-There is a LOT of road walking on the IAT. Probably 500 miles. Mostly
quiet roads but that's a lot.
-The IAT is very flat. Your high point is 1,920' and a big climb would be
-The IAT is a lot of farmland. Corn and soybeans forever.
-The forest is typically very junky, my term for previously logged forest
with a million crisscrossing old logging roads with really thick and
unhealthy tree distribution and understory.
-The IAT is only marginally scenic. If you like farmland you'll like it for
-Camping can be very challenging for the first 60%.
-Noise pollution is a big problem for the first 60%.
-At times the bugs can be absolutely horrible. It can also be very hot and
humid in the summer.
So what is there to like about the IAT?
-It's very easy! Once your feet break in on the roads you'll be flying!
-It's scenic sometimes. There's some nice lakes, birds, nature paths,
really nice prairie, farmland, benches everywhere. It's just not that
classic amazement and frequently just bland but it can also be very nice at
times. Looking back I really enjoyed the Kettle Morraine sections in the
first 2/3 the best. This was like 150? miles of good trail and good forest
mostly walking on these little moraines that lifted you off the ground a
-You'll barely have to carry food. I hit some sort of town food for 29 out
of my first 32 days. Except for one stretch in the North Woods where I
carried 6 days of food, I never carried more than 3 days and frequently
like 1-2 days at most. I ate at a ton of Subways, McDonald's and local Bars.
-The people are crazy nice. The trail angel network is large and incredibly
helpful if you need it.
-It's a unique experience, even if not insanely amazing.
The IATA says the trail is only 60% complete. For an 1,100 mile trail that
means there are about 440 miles of roads. Plus the roads that walk through
towns which are part of the final route and the 60% completed. Plus I think
they've maybe overstated that 60% completed but I can't prove it. I made a
list of all road walks >10 miles and came up with 14 road walks totalling
about 400 miles. I'm not sure how they only get to 440 miles when just the
long road walks total 400 miles.
But anyway, there's a lot of road walks. The vast majority are on very
quiet rural farmland roads. The majority are in the first 2/3 of the trail
until Antigo. The North Woods has a few long ones but not a whole lot over
the 400 miles of hiking in the North Woods. Whereas in the first 1/3 you
are doing a lot of road walking and then the second 1/3 going north through
the middle of the State it seems like all you do is road walk.
The IAT has mapped the road walks to coincide with the proposed trail
corridor which is frequently longer than if you selected a more direct
route which is allowed. To be considered an IAT thru hiker you must hike
all "certified" trail but the "connecting" road walks you can walk whatever
you want as long as you walk something and connect your steps. I'd highly
recommend using Google Maps walking directions. This frequently routed me
onto a much shorter route still using quiet roads. Sometimes the shortest
route is a state highway. These are a bit busier but usually just a 2 lane
road with not very many cars with a big shoulder. Just watch out for the
really big state roads with divided highways, I'd try to avoid those as
they are very busy.
I'm not an expert on this. I'm not even sure what is really ideal. I think
May-October is about the season with April and November being shoulder
months. There was late snow this year and the one thru hiker I met said he
was walking through a foot of snow for a short bit in mid April. I have
friends who hiked May/June, I hiked June/July and a blog I was reading the
guy hiked August/September and the bugs were pretty horrible for all of us!
I think I had less ticks but more mosquitoes in the North Woods than my
earlier hiking friends. The later guy seemed to have terrible mosquitoes
too. It was frequently VERY hot and humid for me which was a bit of a
surprise. I had a much hotter than usual summer. That might be a good
reason to hike earlier or later. September/October would be intriguing to
me with less bugs, not hot and Fall colors. However, I might worry about
cold and cold rain as it can rain a fair bit. Also, certain sections with
private easements are closed during hunting season in the Fall so check
that out too. Otherwise it probably doesn't matter exactly when you hike
between May-October, but I really hated the June/July timeframe this year,
the heat/humidity and bugs were horrible.
*Direction of Travel*
People seem to go either direction. Personally I think the way I went,
Westbound is better. The North Woods final 400 miles are more remote,
harder and less road walking than the first 2/3. All good reasons to do the
easier stuff first first. Especially if this is your first long trail.
Otherwise it doesn't really matter and you can go either way. I believe the
guidebook is written Eastbound but I didn't use the guidebook.
Horrible! Actually for the first 2/3 I was pleasantly surprised as I only
very rarely had any mosquitoes and saw 1 tick. Then I entered the North
Woods and had 400 miles of horrible mosquitoes. Horrible! I also had deer
flies constantly buzzing my head so I usually had a head net on. I also
wore long pants and if I did it again I'd probably wear a long sleeve shirt
too. Instead I put DEET on my arms and the rest of my body was covered. I
luckily had minimal ticks as I think these are much worse earlier in the
season. Occasionally when walking through a certain long grass I would get
some crawling up my legs. Make sure to tuck your pant legs into your socks
and this will really help keep them off of you. I soaked my pants in
permethrin which didn't seem to do anything as they crawled right up my
pant legs, maybe there were less because of it. But seriously, the
mosquitoes were absolutely horrible at times. Basically the last 20 days
for me. Just about ruined the whole hike.
Tons of deer. The sand hill cranes are really cool. Some bears in the North
Woods. A few big turtles. A few bald eagles. Not a lot else.
Of my 50 nights I spent 43 in my tent camping on trail and 7 in motels. I
was a bit unusual in that I like to camp far away from people. Most hikers
do a mix of trail camping, staying with trail angels, camping at trailhead
parking areas, camping behind bars and in town parks and asking friendly
locals to camp in their yard. That's really not my thing.
It would be impossible to thru hike the IAT and legally camp the whole way.
There is fairly little legal camping considering that even a lot of the
public land technically has no camping. But my policy is if the land is
public then stealth camping is generally fine. My main goal was to not camp
on private land. The private land easements are always tenuous and do you
really want to be the hiker that gets caught camping and then ruins it for
everyone when access is revoked?
In the North Woods camping is easy. There is a ton of public land and few
road walks. Twice I needed to camp while on a road walk and much of the
surrounding land is forest and not farmland so slipping into some random
woods was no problem.
Camping in the first 2/3 of trail is extraordinarily difficult. There is so
much road walking and so much farm land it's very, very hard to stealth
camp. My strategy was to plan 2 nights in advance so I could plan the first
night of camp but also tweak my miles if needed for the 2nd night too.
Frequently I would push to finish a road walk and camp as soon as I finally
hit trail again. If I hadn't planned 2 nights in advance I might have not
say hiked a couple extra miles the day before to make sure I'd get off the
roads today to camp. It was a huge pain in the ass but somehow I always
made it work. I only had to camp along one road walk and there was good
forest to tuck into. A huge portion of these 700 miles are farmland and
camping along road walks is very hard as there are practically no trees not
next to houses. I also used the Google satellite feature on the App
(downloaded offline) to make sure my camp spots would be secluded enough if
need be. This was a great help in finding stealthy spots. Technology!
I proved it can be done without trail angels, peoples yards, camping at
bars, etc but it definitely takes a bit of effort and flexibility. For me
it was worth it. I really hate camping anywhere with other people and noise.
Speaking of noise, this trail is very loud! The first 2/3 you are either on
road or near a road. Even when you are on trail you are basically still
within the road grid system with roads on all sides of you. I don't think
there was a single night in the first 2/3 where I couldn't hear a car.
Sometimes it was better than others depending on my choice of sites.
I hit town food (gas station, tavern, small town, big town, etc.) 29 out of
my first 32 days. That's crazy! I was gaining weight hiking 25 miles a day!
I was a frequent eater at Subway and McDonald's. So there's obviously no
resupply issues for the first 2/3. For the North Woods there is only one
issue. The 150 miles from Antigo to Rib Lake (Rib Lake is 1.8 miles off or
you can walk-in and walk out a different way still adding just a couple
miles). I just carried 6 days of food and did 25s. The most logical stop on
the way would be the town of Merrill but the hitch is on an almost
interstate state highway and would be a pain. There are 2 Bars/Taverns on
the route. You could call one of them and try to send a package, that would
be my best suggestion.
The IAT has an excel list of towns with Post Offices but the listing then
also notes if there is a grocery, lodging, etc. But it gives no details.
The Hiker Notes (see below) will generally mention all the random Bars
along the way which is nice. And then this guys blog was helpful listing
the type of grocery in the major towns:
I just used the above sources and then used Google Maps heavily to locate
businesses, find towns with cheap motels, etc.
I'll start with the only one you'll need and then list the others. There is
a Guthook app for the trail now. It's called Atlas/Guthook for IPhone and
Mammoth app for Android. You honestly don't need anything else. It has the
GPS track and lots of data points. The only thing lacking is there is no
resupply info which is unusual.
I also bought and initially carried the data book which is nice but I ended
up tossing it and very occasionally referencing it as a PDF on my phone.
There is resupply info but it's pretty vague like the excel listing. It
maybe mentions a few more things.
There is a map set called the Atlas that is nice but unnecessary with the
App. Also, it's fairly high level (50k) so you can't really navigate off of
them anyway. There is a guidebook too which is also unnecessary with the
App although does have a lot more trail and historical info which is really
nice if you like that. It's a very nice book.
There is a list of trail angels that the IATA will send you. There is also
a word document of hiker notes kept by a past thru hiker (Sharron). You'll
want this. It lists all the secret food stops! Plus stealth camping
thoughts and a small blurb about the condition of the section. Very
There are not a lot of good blogs out there. By far the best one that I
used as a good high level of what was coming up was this blog:
I liked his writing style a lot. Just keep in mind that he was shuttling a
car up the trail so his resupply is a lot different than normal. But he
does find all the random bars and taverns!
I have AT&T and had cell coverage for like 90%+ of the trail. Serious! Not
a day went by I didn't have coverage.
Trail angels are a big thing on the IAT. The IATA will send you a list of
trail angels by segment. It seems that the primary service provided are
shuttles. Lots of shuttles. There are a ton of Wisconsin section hikers and
many of them need help getting to and from segments and the trail angels
seem to do a lot of that. Some also offer lodging and I'm sure if you had
any trouble someone would definitely come to help you. I was able to pretty
easily arrange a ride to the start of the trail from Green bay and a ride
to Minneapolis airport from the end of the trail. People were incredibly
friendly in my email exchanges. I didn't utilize the trail angel network
for lodging but many hikers do.
It was much hotter and humid than I expected. I do think I had a hotter
than usual summer. I had a few times where the heat index was well over
100. Even an 80 degree humid day which is a pretty average day here in the
summer can be hot while exposed on a road walk or swatting mosquitoes in
the forest. It's hard for me to really explain how horribly humid it was at
times. In hindsight it was probably one of the hottest summers on record,
I didn't have a ton of rain, I think I may have had less than usual but it
can really storm here when it does.
I'm sure early and late season it can get chilly but for me it was pretty
hot all the time, even at night.
There's a Thousand Miler Wannabee Facebook group which is hugely active
with section hikers. You'd think the trail was overrun based on the
activity but I barely saw anyone, ever. I met one other thru hiker, two
section hikers and one day in the Kettles there were a few backpackers.
That's it for 1,100 miles. Crazy. Of course daily you will be in towns,
cross roads, see people but actual hikers are almost non existent. I'm sure
people are section hiking but I sure didn't see them.
Overall, the trail is blazed extremely well. Tons of yellow blazes.
Occasionally it can be confusing in the North Woods as there are a million
crisscrossing old logging roads but it still was almost always well blazed.
For the first 2/3 the trail, what trail there is, is very well built and
maintained. Occasionally a short grassy section that maybe wasn't mowed or
a farm field edge where there really isn't trail but overall the trail is
In the North Woods it is very hit or miss. The quality of the trail many
times isn't built to a high standard so it's easy to be hard to walk on
when overgrown. The primary problem are the grassy snowmobile corridors the
trail uses. Many of these don't even have an old 2-track and if they
haven't been mowed in a while then you can have waist high or higher
grasses to walk through like I did for 30+ miles in Langlade county. This
was mostly the exception and not the rule but in general the trail in the
North Woods is nowhere near as good as the first 2/3 and surprisingly rough
at times. But still well marked always.
The entire trail is built around the concept of the Ice Age. The trail
generally follows the edge of the furthest ice advance like 30,000 years
ago. I found it to be a bit of a stretch with how excited the trail seemed
about it's origin story. There were a number of interpretive signs early on
and they would say, imagine you are standing here 30,000 years ago. There's
a glacier in front of you and a wooly mammoth nearby. And all I see are
trees or farmland. It didn't really sell well to me. I guess a trail needs
to have a purpose. All the remaining features of the Ice Age are pointed
out like eskers, kettles, moraines, etc. On the one hand kinda cool, on the
other hand an esker is like a 20' ridge and a kettle is a small pond or
lake. Not exactly mind blowing.
There is also a massive cold cache program which is like Geo caching for
natural features. The app is loaded with these data points and instructions
for each one on what to do to qualify and get recognized for completing it.
I did not participate, it's more of a section hiker thing when you have a
lot more time. Cool concept though.
Water is surprisingly not great on the IAT. In the first 2/3 almost all of
the natural water is through farmland with god knows how much pesticide
dumped in. I drank some creeks occasionally but generally tried not too if
i could help it. Most of your water you will get at houses on road walks
which I find to be annoying but no choice at times. Also towns and parks.
When on trail there were times where it was surprisingly dry. I would have
thought Wisconsin would have more naturally running water.
In the North Woods water is much more frequent and cleaner yet still
dubious at times. You pass by a ton of ponds and lakes and also a lot of
seasonal creeks and a bunch of decent sized creeks too. I drank from all of
these. Much of the water was a brownish color but I think that's just from
the tannins or something. Many of the ponds and little creeks were just too
stagnant with too much stuff on the surface to want to drink but in general
I found plenty of water in the North woods.
A note about the App which when you click on a data point it tells you the
miles till the next water. This frequently didn't take into account lakes
and ponds which I would always drink from rather than carry a lot of water.
Sometimes the next water was 30-40 miles away, yet you would walk right by
a huge lake at some point. So don't always trust the data points for Next
*Getting to the Start/Finish*
Most non locals will fly into Green Bay or Minneapolis. Neither have a
direct way to the trail other than Uber which is pricey. I'd suggest the
trail angel list, folks are really helpful.
From the end at St. Croix you could hitch about 25 miles to Forest Lake and
pick up a bus to Minneapolis from there. To get to the start from Green Bay
there isn't much of an option except hitching.
Personally I never would have made it without long pants. There is a lot of
poison ivy and the brush in general would give me a rash. My hiking
umbrella was very important for the many hot days while road walking and
nice to have in the rain too. Sunscreen for the road walks if you are light
skinned. Tons of 100% DEET. A headnet for sure. A fully enclosed shelter
unless you don't care about being eaten alive my mosquitoes. Low cut hiking
shoes were fine for me. They got minimal wear and one pair easily lasted
the 1,100 miles.
If you've made it this far and have any questions feel free to email me:
The Ice Age Trail, one of only eleven National Scenic Trails in the United States, is a thousand-mile footpath highlighting Wisconsins world-renowned Ice Age heritage and scenic beauty. Learn more: www.iceagetrail.org